On the importance of pleasant spaces

One of the major benefits of being on fellowship is being able to write from home every day, rather than in my tiny windowless basement cubicle on campus. I know there are a lot of people who aren’t able to write at home, either because they don’t have enough space or a space that feels sufficiently work-like, or because they need people around them when they’re working. The latter folks tend to work in coffee shops and often find that the presence of other patrons, even if they are strangers, provides a sense of accountability that keeps them working. The former folks work in on-campus offices, even on days they don’t have to be on campus.

I don’t want people around when I’m working. I don’t even want music, or noise of any kind. The only company I’m willing to tolerate when I’m writing is the cat, who doesn’t really give me much of a choice:

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As I’m fortunate enough to have an office at home, that’s where I prefer to work—it’s where the books are, after all. But when I only worked at home once a week, my desk would be piled with books, papers I’d brought home to grade or file, bills that needed shredding, and a sizable accumulation of cat fur, since both cats think the desk is placed where it is to provide them with a prime outdoor-viewing spot. And when I had only one day a week to work at home, there were always pressing things I needed to do with that time, so cleaning the desk, not to mention the office, was never much of a priority.

After about a week of working at home every day, I realized that my office needed to be somewhere that I wanted to work. And I had to do something about the desk, because the clutter was stressing me out. So I bought a new lamp, a pretty mug for my pens and pencils and a box to hold the books I’m using, and I decluttered, dusted, swept, and put everything away. (Apologies for the crappy pictures—it’s hard to photograph a desk that’s backlit like this.)Image

No stacks of papers, no ceiling-high piles of books, no stray pens rolling around. When I sit down in the morning, I have this sense of potential and of things in their place that often rolls over into my writing.

The rest of the room got tidied up as well. (Yes, for me, this is tidy.)

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Not photographed is the fourth bookshelf, which is where the library books live and where all the papers, exams, and manila folders that were formerly stacked on my desk are now stored.

It wasn’t until I got things cleared out that I realized that some of the anxiety I felt about writing had been coming from anxiety about where I was writing. The piles of books and papers had been communicating a sense of disorder, and of things that were being neglected. I would sit down to write with this nagging sense that what I really should do was tidy things up. The writing was more important, of course, but the evidence that there were other things I needed to be doing was stacked all around me, vying for my attention.

Space is important. I don’t function as well in a windowless room as I do somewhere with natural light. I feel most comfortable in a space where I’m in control and unobserved—if I want to put my feet on the desk, or talk to myself, or talk to myself and record my thoughts on my iPod, nobody’s going to judge me. Except maybe the cat, but I’m not going to let that bother me.

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